The forces of power and influence in surfing

September 30, 2013 | Surfing
Surfing: who's got power and influence?

The world surfing actors play a dynamic sphere-of-influence game. But, in the sport of riding waves, who's in control?

According to SurferToday Research, the surf industry is worth 20 billion dollars (including the wave sports of surfing, bodyboarding, windsurfing, and kiteboarding).

There's a lot of money at stake behind the naive act of riding wave faces. Surfing is a serious business. Seriously. And surf companies don't live of selling gear, that's for sure.

When we talk about the "Big Four" - Billabong, O'Neill, Quiksilver, and Rip Curl - surfwear is where profit is. Forget wetsuits, surf fins, traction pads, or surfboards.

Surf brands want you to buy boardshorts, shoes and sandals, sweatshirts, t-shirts, trousers. That's where the coin meets the pocket.

With roughly 35 million surfers worldwide, the anonymous wave rider is on the base of the power and influence pyramid.

The average weekend surfer has the power to change the consumer behavior of his circle of friends. Not much.

Anonymous surfers make their choices, but they can't change the surfing world all by themselves. Surf judges are not the wizards of surfing, but they can make a difference when deciding who's the best in a heat.

Surfboards shapers, the builders of dreams, can change surfing by introducing new approaches to plank design and its relationship with hydrodynamics.

Asymmetrical shapes, revolutionary core materials, innovative rail work, and functional tail models surely change how we draw the line.

Newly-shaped surfboards are then marketed in surf shops, the retail centers of our dreams. Surf shops have the power to decide our choices, whether we're getting a new wetsuit or a set of surf fins.

We trust our local surf stores, and they command an interesting power over their clients.

The pyramid of influence in the surfing world has reached the halfway mark. At this stage, we discover the non-governmental surf organizations.

These surfers defend valuable causes such as beach access, environmental protection, pollution prevention, access to clean water, access to medicine, etc.

Fortunately, their victories are everyone's triumphs.

The level of influence is rising. It's time to meet the power of the surf acronyms. Have you ever heard of the ASP, ISA, or SIMA? Well, the surfing world has its executive institutions, too.

Whether they decide the rules of competitive wave riding, lobby for an Olympic spot, or analyze the shopping trends of anonymous surfers, the truth is that they control the surf ship.

Surf media dominate differently. Despite their less respectable reputation/prestige and biased attitudes, surf magazines, surf blogs, surf TV channels, and surf journals reach wide audiences.

They are opinion-makers and may rapidly change consumption patterns in the surf shopping world.

The top of the great pyramid of surfing influence is reserved for the artists. Pro surfers are modern world acknowledged stars.

Their smiles, their words, their wave decisions, their surfboards, and their victories get us online till dawn. Our favorite surfers inspire and motivate us to improve our own surfing.

Finally, meet the surf companies. They feed the surfing world and our lives. With hundreds of thousands of employees worldwide, surf brands control the clothes and shorts that we wear and even the way we ride waves.

They know what and when we buy surf gear and apparel, but we couldn't live without the surf companies' appeal.

As a Harvard Business School teacher once said, "power is the ability to get things done." How have you been influencing the sport of surfing?